FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The already obvious concern about Ohio State's shaky pass defense increased with the news that its top pass rusher, Noah Spence, and its best cornerback, Bradley Roby, will not play in Friday night's Orange Bowl.
Spence was suspended by the Big Ten for the Orange Bowl and the first two games of the 2014 season for what the conference called a violation of one of its rules.
The Columbus Dispatch reported Spence used an unauthorized dietary supplement. The sophomore defensive end leads OSU in sacks with eight.
Roby injured his knee in the Big Ten championship game and played only briefly in that game after the injury. Spence's parents appealed the Big Ten's ruling Spence and Ohio State thought they had a good chance to have the suspension reversed.
Spence did not travel to Florida with the team and had not practiced this week, but coach Urban Meyer said he was surprised that the Buckeyes won't have him in the Orange Bowl.
“I was disappointed the appeal didn't go through,” Meyer said on Wednesday. “I'm going to move on. I'm not going to talk about it. We're going to move on.”
OSU (12-1) ranks No. 105 nationally in pass defense. In its last four games it has given up 1,363 yards and 11 touchdowns to quarterbacks like Michigan State's Connor Cook, Michigan's Devin Gardner, Indiana's Nate Sudfeld and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase. None of those QB's has a career body of work like the one the Buckeyes will face Friday night in Clemson's Tajh Boyd, a one-time Ohio State recruiting target. Boyd has thrown for more than 3,000 yards each of the last three seasons and has an Atlantic Coast Conference-record 102 touchdown passes in his career. So, how will Ohio State keep big plays from becoming as common as television timeouts?
Meyer's response was that he believes the players who will fill in will deliver when called upon.
“It's tough. What's my confidence level? We recruited a lot of them, we coached a lot of them. I'm anxious to see Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell. Josh Perry is one of the most improved players on our team. We've got (Ryan) Shazier so we've got some very good players,” he said.
Meyer did not absolutely rule Roby out for the Orange Bowl, but said, “I don't think Roby's going to make it.” Even before Roby's injury, it appeared young defensive backs Bell and Powell, who had the game-clinching break-up on a two-point conversion attempt by Michigan, were going to play more.
Bell told a hometown television station in Chattanooga, Tenn., that he would start in the Orange Bowl. Meyer has not confirmed that. But earlier this week he said, “I've always been a big Vonn Bell guy. “It takes time to move him into the lineup. We had good chemistry, won a lot of games. But he's certainly a talented guy who's going to play a bunch for us.” The most speculated about role for Bell, a safety, has been that he would start at nickel back, the fifth defensive back in passing situations. And with Clemson's passing game, that would mean he would be on the field most of the time. If that happens, redshirt freshman Powell, currently the fifth defensive back, could replace Corey Brown as a starter at safety. Armani Reeves would take Roby's place. Linebacker Curtis Grant has also been limited by injuries but will play Friday night, Meyer said.
Counting safety Christian Bryant, who suffered a season-ending broken ankle in the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will be facing a Clemson offense that averaged 40 points, 502 yards total offense and 329 yards passing per game without three starters. “It's part of the game. We've got to deal with it,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said earlier this week. “We can't dwell on it. We can't whine and complain about it.” Fickell has been the target of many complaints by OSU fans as the defense has struggled. But Meyer gave him a vote of confidence earlier this week. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Luke Fickell. He's a very unselfish coach, a very good coach and we're going to get this thing fixed,” Meyer said.